From amateur to expert: free range duck producers set sights on Asia

While Australia’s free range egg industry has exploded, free range duck production has been laying low.

The lack of competition has allowed Greg and Jodi Clarke’s six-year-old business, Great Ocean Road Ducks to blossom, despite their farming naivety.

“I’d never even picked up a shovel, ever,” Ms Clarke said.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Mr Clarke added.

“Ducks have been on menus for hundreds of years and we figured that was a good option to start with, so we went researching from there,” Mr Clarke said.

The business started as a “hobby that would make a bit of money” and allow Jodi time at home with her young children.

Growing business opportunities

The business now supplies about 15 renowned chefs, including Ian Curley at European, Dan Hunter at Brae and Robin Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel.

And the Clarkes’ horizons are expanding.

“We hope the abattoir that processes our ducks will soon apply for an export licence, and we’d like to get on board the Asian thing,” Mr Clarke said.

“If you don’t see pictures of a duck out in the paddock, then maybe they’re not real free range.”

Greg Clarke, Great Ocean Road Ducks

“Just because we’re small, doesn’t mean we can’t have a crack at one or two really exclusive restaurants in somewhere like Hong Kong or Shanghai.

“We’ve had emails in the last six months from the Maldives of all places, and a middle man in Hong Kong.”

If the industry develops further, issues around the definition and regulation of ‘free range’ could flare up as they have in the egg industry.

“There’s no legally-binding set of rules to define what free range is,” Mr Clarke said.

“If you don’t see pictures of a duck out in the paddock, then maybe they’re not real free range.

“We use the label ‘paddock-reared real free range’.”

Mr Clarke acknowledges the hefty price tag on his ducks — some retailers selling them for $40 each — but defends the cost.

“You look at these farmers who have no control, they’re price takers,” he said.

“We have always told customers what the price will be, and to this point they’ve been willing to pay.”

But the Clarkes also spend far more on caring for their birds, feeding them fresh fruit and high quality grain.

“Our cost of production is probably close to what a factory bird retails for,” he said.

“So that’s why we’re keeping it small and selling direct to great restaurants.”

Courtesy of ABC Rural here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-12/duck-free-range-great-ocean-road-restaurants/6934964